Photo Source: Apple
Apple saved the best for last at today’s Spring Forward event, taking the wraps off their newest iPad with an insane intro video featuring Tim Cook doing his best Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible impression. However, what came after that video was an even better show.
Apple is going all out on this new iPad Pro. We heard a lot about the details in the lead up to this event, but there were still some small surprises in the details we got about the device today.
The AX is dead. All hail the M
First off, the biggest news out of today’s announcement was Apple deciding to re-brand the processor architecture of the iPad Pro to the M1. Most analysts and leakers were saying the processor would have an M1 architecture, but still be named the A14X. However, Apple chose to make a distinction here.
Before talking about what that means, understand that this isn’t just a change in name only. Apple is touting 50% faster CPU performance over the existing A12Z. That’s a much bigger bump than your typical iPad Pro refresh. I can say the same of the 40% boost in graphics performance. Couple this with 16 GB of RAM and you have a powerhouse of a tablet.
There will be a lot of discussion about Apple shifting the processor designation to M1 as we get closer to WWDC. Does this shift mean that Apple is about to supercharge iPadOS with another huge update like iPadOS 13? It’s certainly possible, but there is no way to know for sure right now. I expected them to deliver a lot more than they did last year and we got the smallest new set of features in a long time, so a prediction is nothing more than a guess here. There also haven’t been any leaks of substance about the new software to date, so this is wide open for speculation.
Right now, Apple shifting the processor to the M1 naming convention further ties its top-tier iPads to the Mac computer line in terms of how they are viewed. I have to believe there will be software upgrades to match this shift and take advantage of all the new hardware features of the Pros in iPadOS 15. The real question is how far will Apple choose to go in that direction.
XDR comes to the iPad
The new 12.9″ iPad Pro got an upgrade to a Mini-LED screen, as expected. However, the details are still more impressive than the leaks made it sound. First off, Apple drew a straight line between this new display, named the Liquid Retina XDR Display, and their impressive Pro XDR Display. Like the move to M1, this is no accident.
The details are also very impressive. The new tablet is going from 72 LEDs to 10,000 grouped into 2,500 local dimming zones. The end result is an HDR display with 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It also means 1600 nits of peak brightness, and all of this comes on top of the already proven True Tone and ProMotion features. This display sounds like it will be best in class by a wide margin. Also of this also comes with no negative impact on the standard 12.9″ iPad Pro battery life, which is impressive. Remember when Retina came to the iPad 3? I do, and it wasn’t pretty.
You’re on Center Stage
This was a small feature announcement in the grand scheme of things, but it covers an issue that many of us complain about often- the iPad’s front-facing camera location. By expanding the camera’s field of view and sprinkling some machine learning dust on it, the new iPad Pro will supposedly make us look like we’re not off at a weird angle, perpetually side-eyeing the camera during online classes, meetings, or video calls.
Again, this is a small thing. I would prefer Apple just move the camera, but that real estate is currently occupied by the charging magnet for the Apple Pencil. That’s a feature that most Pro users love, so I can understand why Apple went a different route to address the way the camera works. The good news is that they have responded to user feedback with something that should make all of the remote video calls we do these days work a lot better on our iPad Pros.
The inclusion of Thunderbolt was predicted well before today’s Apple event, but the combination of this with the M1 and Liquid Retina XDR Display just underlines Apple’s point- this is 100% a business-class Pro-level piece of computing hardware. The event even made mention of one specific and important use case for Thunderbolt- external displays. I don’t see how Apple could get away with not delivering enhanced external display support after talking specifically about the kind of performance that Thunderbolt can deliver here.
When you think about all of it together, not just the inclusion of Thunderbolt, but the way that Apple positioned it in this presentation, it points strongly to new Pro features coming to iPadOS 15. Again, it’s really a matter of how far Apple chooses to travel down this road, rather than whether they will.
And now for the bad news
The bad news isn’t really that bad. However, as predicted over the last couple of days, the price of the 12.9″ iPad Pro did go up. Thankfully it was only $100, so I don’t think it’s that bad considering how big of an update this is. The base model now sells for $1099, up from the former $999. I also give Apple a little credit for not being super greedy and bumping the price of the 11″ model, since it isn’t getting the big display upgrade this time out. A price bump isn’t ideal, but it could have been worse.
The other bit of bad news is that we didn’t get an Apple Pencil upgrade with this year’s iPad Pro. However, the 2nd gen Pencil is still a great piece of hardware and is fine for anything I need to use it for. However, there are some cool potential new features for the Pencil that have shown up in Apple patents over the last couple of years. I was hoping a new version with one or more of them might hit today. Maybe next year on that one.
The only other bad news regarding the new iPad Pro is the wait. I guess we can blame the global semiconductor shortage, but like everything else announced today, we will be waiting to get our hands on any new Pros. While pre-orders for recent iPads have either been later in the week or started right after the event, the new iPad Pros won’t be available to order until next Friday, April 30th.
That isn’t too bad, but the pre-order date doesn’t really matter when the hardware won’t arrive until the “second half of May,” as stated by Apple. A timeframe that open ended could mean we are waiting an entire month for most of the new Pro’s to arrive. And you can bet the 12.9″ models will be the ones in short supply and with the longest waits. This isn’t the end of the world by any means, but after waiting a month longer than expected for this event, the potential for adding yet another month or more of waiting is not what iPad Pro fans were hoping to hear.
All that said, this was still a great Apple event from top to bottom. They announced new Apple Card features, a few new Podcast features, a new iPhone color (purple), AirTags, a new Apple TV, a new iMac and the new iPad Pros, all in just one hour. Impressive. And the entire presentation came with the polish and performance we expect from an Apple event.
And now we begin the wait to get our hands on the goods.